Kelechi Alfred-Igbokwe, "Dear Black Men: Dark Skinned Women aren't your Sloppy Seconds"
Earlier this year, Dear White People burst out the gates as a Netflix phenomenon for socially conscious people of color (and allies) seeking quality representation of black people while tackling important social issues. I’ve watched it twice - once alone over the course of a weekend and the second time surrounded by friends in a supreme binge watch in one night. Both times, however, I bristled at the treatment of the dark skinned female characters.
The ostensibly main character is a light skinned biracial girl named Sam (Logan Browning), and while that is not inherently problematic, her being put on a pedestal as a love interest compared to the darker skinned black girls around her is.
Take her frenemy, Collandrea “Coco” Conners (played by Antoinette Robinson), for example. Their relationship in the present is a complicated one, but they were friends in the past. During the course of their freshman year friendship, Coco became enamored with the “Golden Boy” on campus, Troy Fairbanks (Brandon P. Bell), and constantly yearned for him. However, her friendship with Sam disintegrates for complex identity divergences, and later, we discover that Sam and Troy actually dated for a while. In the freshman year flashbacks, the show makes a point to reveal that, for all Coco’s desires, Troy ends up being drawn to Sam. That in and of itself is not condemnable - unless you believe in a girl code - but there are strong differences between the way Troy treated Sam in their relationship and the way he treats Coco subsequently.
Troy openly expressed affection to Sam, took her to meet his father, and ensured that she knew she was his girlfriend. This is a stark contrast to the relationship we see between Troy and Coco in the present day. Coco has to ask Troy’s roommate, Lionel (Tyler James Williams) whether Troy is seeing someone, even while she is seeing Troy. Coco and Troy regularly have sex in the interiority of his dorm room, but Troy is reticent to claim her publicly. Troy does not ascertain that they’re in a relationship until Coco cajoles him into it. She says it best: "You're so quick to claim girls like her, but I get a come thru text."
The show perpetuates the false dichotomy of light skinned black women being desirable, beautiful, pursued, prized, and prioritized, while undermining dark skinned black women as not enough, unwanted, and valued only for sex.
Another hard hitting instance of the “overlooked dark skinned girl” is the case of Sam’s present day best friend, Joelle (played by Ashley Blaine Featherson). She secretly pines after Reggie (Marque Richardson), even though Reggie idolizes Sam. Reggie’s fixation with the idea of Sam is a topic for an entirely different article, but while putting Sam on a pedestal, Reggie frequently underappreciates Joelle. Reggie mopes around, plagued by thoughts of Sam and her “socially conscious” boyfriend Gabe (John Patrick Amedori). Meanwhile, Joelle tries her hardest - and earnest - to take Reggie’s mind off of it, make sure he’s doing ok, and help him find other joys in life. Yet, he takes all her heartfelt care for granted, and keeps on obsessing over Sam right in front of her at the slightest opportunity.
The most egregious part of this matter is the time Reggie said resolutely that, to show how “woke” he was, he would marry the darkest black woman and have dark babies with her. I was most disheartened and exasperated in that moment. Black men, Black women are not your mules to be used as a metric of how “conscious” you are. You don’t get to express that you want a dark skinned women only to inflate your own sense of self and prove that you’re pro-black. We’re not toys for you to use and discard. And we are certainly not your sloppy seconds that you only think about when you feel jilted by the light skinned girl of your dreams.
Dear White People is an insightful show with incisive social commentary, but the burden of colorism continues to be us dark skinned girls’ cross to bear in our representation in mainstream television.